Social media blocks Italy’s path to a free-market society

by Tommaso Venditti

In such a tough and unpredictable situation as a result of the pandemic, what Italy really needs is a clear turn of politics towards liberalism.

However, the country lacks a liberal tradition, due to its inner nature. Statism has always been a dominant feature throughout Italian history, supported by well-defined state interventions in many sectors of society. This aspect shows an irredeemable contrast with a core principle of liberalism: that of a free market aiming at sustainable development and a clear separation of powers.

A second reason why a party with proper liberal principles struggles to be formed in Italy is related to the fragmentation in the political landscape. Such an overabundance of political options leads to the coexistence of many similar positions in terms of liberalism, in its broadest sense, which paradoxically causes far more ideological collisions rather than consensuses. Some leaders even define themselves as liberals with the sole aim of getting support from moderate voters but without expressing any liberal concepts.

The liberal area is potentially vast, including positions both from centre-right and centre-left parties. Among the conservatives, “Forza Italia” has a noticeable role to play as Berlusconi holds moderate positions, supporting the EU, anti-communism and following the path of Christian traditions. As far as reformists are concerned, Renzi’s “Italia Viva”, Calenda’s “Azione” and Bonino’s “+Europa” might be taken into account. Even though many leaders can be grouped under liberal values, a collaboration is highly unrealistic given their heterogeneous positions. Bonino, for instance, is definitely more radical than Renzi. A figure able to make all these ideas fit together is missing, someone who guarantees him or herself as undisputed leader of the liberal coalition. Therefore, a lack of leadership is what makes liberalism weak in the country.

Furthermore, even by teaming up they would struggle to create any real moderate support, due to the polarisation of Italian politics. In recent years, the contraposition among left and right has become more and more evident. This phenomenon can be traced back over the last couple of decades. The beginning of the “Berlusconi era” caused public opinion to divide sharply among his supporters and his opposition as he was clearly the dominant figure in the political arena.

Afterwards, an equilibrium was reached, where “Forza Italia” and “PD” took the lead, at least as far as general principles and values are concerned. This balance was shocked by the eruption of populism, both on the right side with sovereigntists and on the left side with “M5S”. This caused both “Forza Italia” and “PD” to suffer a fall in support, despite “PD” still being the second largest Italian party, with around 20 per cent of voter, according to latest polls.

This situation is, in turn, a direct consequence of the modern-day politics in Italy. A tweet appears to have far greater impact than a well-structured speech by a leader. It is a more direct way of communication, albeit a poorer one. In fact, a statement of such kind is able to simplify a complex concept, allowing a greater general understanding of a certain topic; yet, it highlights only a limited section, leading to an approximation of an issue that often requires a much deeper understanding.

Talk shows are of little use as well, being structured more as a fight rather than a serious debate for audience purposes, with a focus on personalities to get a bunch of likes on social networks. This produces a distinct lack of focus on the real problems of society. An excessive focus on the personality of a politician shows the tendency of Italians to identify with the “strong man”, who generally makes promises instead of keeping them.

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